It’s no secret notebook computers have, within the past year or two, finally eclipsed the sale of desktops worldwide. It really makes sense, too – a lot of households will have individual laptops for specific family members, maybe even a couple of netbooks – and then a central desktop that’s shared by the family. Since then, the growth of desktop sales has been relatively stagnant, if not actively declining. Despite this fact, the desktop market has been rapidly evolving as manufacturers try to come up with new ways to entice consumers to buy these products, which typically carry higher profit margins than their portable counterparts.
The original Macintosh
As such, the market is beginning to undergo a process of stratification. Certain models and price points are coalescing, like the first seeds of dust spinning around before a planet is born. The most dramatic change in terms of form factor is without a doubt the rise of the all-in-one. All-in-ones take the two main parts of a desktop computer – the tower and the display – and merge them into one shape that takes up less space than the two do separately. It’s not a new kind of desktop; Apple may not have invented them, but they certainly popularized them with the original Macintosh going on sale almost 26 years ago.
Just because they popularized them, however, doesn’t mean that they’re the only game in town. Just about every major manufacturer either has or had an all-in-one machine – if not several – for sale in the very recent past. Apple currently sells the iMac line, Lenovo has several different models, Dell is currently pushing the diminutive Studio One 19, HP offers the groundbreaking TouchSmart line in both business and consumer variants, Acer is pushing its own multitouch-capable unit and even second-tier manufacturers like MSI are launching products. Models are exploding out of every corner of the market, and since articles like this love to make big, grandiose statements about the upcoming year, I’ll go ahead and say that it really feels like 2010 will be the year of the all-in-one.
The above examples are just a few of the models that are coming on sale, and between them they really manage to straddle the market in terms of price. Some all-in-ones are available for as little as $399 while others, like Apple’s iMac, can cost six times that. One of the reasons we’ve seen this explosive growth can likely be attributed to the rise of the netbook. Netbooks popularized low-power processors like the Intel Atom, and manufacturers found uses for the chip outside of the netbook form factor. The nettops that arose were so small that manufacturers found they could build them into a display without greatly increasing the size – after that, things began to snowball, and users found themselves wanting more and more, leading to bigger and bigger computers with more powerful components. Performance can vary wildly between brands – some companies use nettop CPUs, some use notebook CPUs and some use desktop CPUs – the same can be said for hard drives, memory and many other components. Moreover, since those nettops are so small, users can kind of build their own all-in-one – many of them come with mounts that attach to the back of pre-existing standalone monitors.
HP can pretty easily be seen as the originator of the touch-capable all-in-one unit, as it introduced its original TouchSmart computers several years ago. A major update to the line late last year made them much more relevant and useful, and the most recent update, just last month, shows that they’re very serious about the longevity of the brand. We’re seeing an increasing number of touch – and multitouch – all-in-ones from many different companies. The TouchSmart is probably the most famous, followed closely by Dell’s Studio One 19.
The recent launch of Windows 7 brought native multitouch controls to Windows for the first time, and it’s made a huge difference in terms of the usability of these machines. Up until now, all of the multitouch functionality was hacked in by device and computer manufacturers. As a result of the new operating system upgrade, interacting with the optical touchscreens found on those all-in-ones that offer such functionality is easier and smoother than ever. Finally, it’s easy to imagine actually using the touch features on a daily basis rather than dismissing them as a gimmick just a couple of days after buying a product.
Regardless of the features you’re after or the price you’re willing to pay, chances are a manufacturer has an all-in-one desktop that fits your style. From Apple’s stunningly gorgeous iMacs to HP’s playful touchscreen TouchSmarts, the all-in-one market is exploding with innovation left and right. Even though the desktop market as a whole may not be growing by leaps and bounds as in years past, these manufacturers are showing that there’s definitely life in it yet.